In Memoriam: Dr David M. Williams

David Williams, who died at the age of 80 on 19 March 2021 following a severe stroke, was one of my oldest friends. Our friendship, like that between many other maritime historians, was first forged at conferences. We both participated in the St. John’s Newfoundland Maritime History Group conferences ‘Volumes not Values’ (197 ) and ‘Working Men Who Got Wet’ (197 ). I learned then that David was both an excellent scholar, and an extraordinarily warm and friendly person. Back in England, David was an obvious choice of speaker for the 1981 Charted and Uncharted Waters conference organised by Glyn Williams and myself at Queen Mary, University of London, where again he delivered an important paper. Indeed, looking at the list of David’s abundant publications since these early years, it is striking how many of these originated as conference presentations. It is, however, no surprise that he received many invitations. Not only could David be relied upon for a well-researched original piece (no ‘pot-boilers’ for him), but his rhetorical style of delivery, worthy of the stage, could be guaranteed to enliven proceedings. His fine strong voice may perhaps have owed something to welsh ancestry and Caernarvon up-bringing.

David’s student years at the University of Liverpool, where he was taught by Sheila Marriner and Francis Hyde, founders of the ‘Liverpool School of Maritime History’, stimulated an interest in the subject, although he always described himself as an economic historian. His 1963 MA on ‘The Function of the Merchant in Specific Liverpool Import Trades 1820-1850’ reflected the Liverpool focus on maritime business, but appointment as an assistant lecturer at the University of Leicester just a year later brought him into contact with the trade and shipping historian Ralph Davis, who influenced his subsequent research, encouraging a broader scope. In 2000, when David’s academic contribution was honoured by the IMEHA in Merchants and Mariners: Selected Maritime Writings of David M. Williams, compiler Lars Scholl identified these themes: ‘the economic (trades, deployment of the merchant fleet, and state regulation of shipping) and social (many aspects of the seaman’s condition)”.

More recently, David also investigated maritime tourism and, in a fruitful collaboration with the late John Armstrong, reconsidered the transition from sail to steam, challenging the conventional view that this was a drawn-out process. David’s expertise and judgement were also reflected in several skilful historiographical surveys.

Puzzlingly, despite his exceptional record of more than fifty scholarly publications, and the considerable esteem in which his scholarship was held by his peers, David evidently regretted that he had not undertaken research for a PhD in the early years of his career, and therefore lacked the title. In 2004, under the title ‘British Merchant Shipping and its Labour Force in an Era of Economic Expansion and Social change, 1790-1914’ he submitted a selection of his work for a doctorate by published work at the University of Leicester and unsurprisingly was awarded the degree.

David’s contribution to maritime history went well beyond his own research. A founding member of the Editorial Board of our predecessor organisation, the International Maritime Economic History Association, his stalwart service to the Journal included serving as Chair and a stint as Editor. The same exceptional organisational and administrative talents were put to use as the Secretary of the British Commission for Maritime History. It was David who in 1993 proposed an annual series of New Researchers in Maritime History conferences, which continues to prosper, and initiated prizes for undergraduate dissertations. Anyone who worked with David on these international and national organisations would become familiar with his gentle prompting and the “Can we have a quiet word?”, designed to ensure everything ran smoothly and amicably. There were indeed several occasions when, after a message from David encouraging me to attend a particular seminar because he feared a low turn-out, on arrival I found a packed room filled, no doubt, with those he had similarly persuaded.

All this activity and hard work went on against a background of family responsibilities, inspiring teaching at the University of Leicester and service as External Examiner. Yet, although it took its toll, seemingly David took everything in his stride, with undimmed enthusiasm and generosity with his time.

David burnished his world-wide friendships and there will be many like me who never went to an event without hoping he would be there, ready to share his great fund of stories, latest terrible jokes and, as an avid collector of historical postcards, news of recent acquisitions. A learned man, with learning lightly borne, he was a sharp commentator on the world and its ways. As maritime historians, we owe a great debt to David Williams for his role in laying the foundations of our discipline as a collaborative international endeavour. On a personal level, there will also be many who lament the passing of a good friend.

Emeritus Professor Sarah Palmer, University of Greenwich

Dr David M. Williams (1940–2021)

David Malcolm Williams was an outstanding scholar, colleague, teacher and mentor who contributed enormously to the development of maritime history in the United Kingdom and internationally.

David spent his early years in Caernarvon, leaving as an eighteen-year old in 1958 to start a BA in Economics at the University of Liverpool. He joined an intake of 12 students, which included Peter Davies, later also an accomplished maritime historian, who became a lifetime friend and collaborator in national and international professional associations. The latter recalled David as coming from a ‘quite conventional and close-knit family’, yet also taking ‘full advantage’ of the extra-curricular opportunities offered to a new undergraduate in Liverpool.

David went up at a particularly auspicious time. The Department of Commerce and Economics included a group of gifted economic historians, led notably by the Chaddock Professor, Francis Hyde. Hyde amongst others formed what was known as the ‘Liverpool School of Maritime History’. Under their influence, David chose economic history options in his final year, graduating as the best student and winning the Gladstone Memorial Scholarship which allowed him to proceed to an MA in 1961. The topic he finally settled on for his dissertation was ‘The Function of the Merchant in Specific Liverpool Import Trades, 1820-1850’. Like all postgraduate economic historians, he was supervised by Hyde himself.

In 1963, after an unexpected vacancy, David was appointed Tutor in Economic History at Liverpool, a role in which he first displayed his talent for teaching. It also set him on his future path. The following year, he applied successfully for an assistant lecturership in Economic History at Leicester, joining Professor Ralph Davis in October 1964 as the nucleus of what would become one of the leading departments of Economic and Social History in the country. For the rest of his career, David was an immensely versatile teacher, a memorable and entertaining lecturer, the saviour of lost undergraduate causes, and an unfailingly helpful colleague and mentor. He was unflappable. Whether in Department meetings or as an external examiner, his judgement were trusted and reliable. He always got on with what he was asked to do.

Beyond the University, David’s growing international reputation as an original and innovative maritime historian led to his deepening involvement in scholarly networks and professional bodies at home and abroad, beginning notably with the Atlantic Canada Shipping Project and the associated Newfoundland seminar during the 1970s. He served as Secretary to the British Commission for Maritime History (1989–1998); as President of the International Maritime Economic History Association (2001-2004); and successively as chair of the editorial board (1990–95), editor (1995–98) and editorial board member (1999–2001) of the International Journal of Maritime History.

Additionally, he was a review editor and editorial board member of the Journal of Transport History and an adviser to the Centres for Maritime Historical Studies at Exeter and Port and Maritime History at Liverpool. David excelled in all these capacities because of his human qualities, his scholarly standing and his considerable administrative skills. He actively promoted his discipline, created opportunities for new researchers, and acquired the most formidable network of contacts and friends.

As a scholar, David exemplified a new approach to maritime history which placed the subject in its broader economic and social settings, thus widening its scope and increasing its relevance. In the introduction to his PhD, awarded by the University in 2003, he described himself as ‘an economic historian specialising in the field of maritime history’. His key influences were Hyde, Davis and the subject’s other ‘founders and promoters’, and his training as an economic historian was evident in the analytical rigour of his work and his systematic use of statistical sources. His interests were wide-ranging. He made important and innovative contributions to the histories of merchants and shipping in the Atlantic commodity trades, the social history of seamen, the beginnings of state regulation of conditions at sea, the origins and development of pleasure cruising, and the early history of steam navigation, much of his work in the last two areas with his long-time collaborator, John Armstrong. Another distinguished colleague, Skip Fischer of Memorial University in Canada, who generously acknowledged his own intellectual debt to David, described his work on bulk passenger trades in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (‘bulk passengers’ including slaves, emigrants, convicts, indentured servants and contract labour) as ‘undeniably seminal’. Fischer also wrote on the occasion of David’s sixtieth birthday: ‘David’s place in maritime history far transcends his individual publications, for his vision of what this discipline ought to be has had a particularly significant impact on the way in which most of us think about what we do’. David’s preferred medium was the essay. He published some 50, either as book chapters or in scholarly journals, alongside five edited books and sundry other pieces. Two collections of essays were published as books. The first, Merchants and Mariners: Selected Maritime Writings of David M. Williams (2000), in which Fischer’s appraisal appeared, included a personal tribute by Peter Davies. The second, The Impact of Technological Change: The Early Steamship in Britain, co-written with John Armstrong, was published in 2011. One further collection, under the title ‘British Merchant Shipping and its Labour Force in an Era of Economic Expansion and Social Change, 1790–1914’, with a valuable introduction by David, was successfully submitted for the award of his Leicester doctorate in 2003.

The first of the collected volumes was presented to David as a token of appreciation and esteem at the Third International Maritime History Congress in Esbjerg, Denmark, in August 2000. David’s retirement as a senior lecturer in the School of History at Leicester in 2005 was marked by a similar gathering of friends and colleagues for a symposium and evening celebration, with both Davies and Fischer in attendance. The affection and regard for David on this occasion was palpable. To all who encountered him, whatever their background, age or circumstances, he was unfailingly humane, tolerant, kind and good humoured. He had a vast repertoire of stories and anecdotes, which enlivened his teaching and entertained his colleagues. His lectures to students and scholars were performances which might conclude with spontaneous applause. He was an indefatigable collector of postcards, travelling regularly to fairs in the Netherlands. His was a keen eye for a bargain, including the comforts of the members room at the Royal Academy which, for a modest subscription, he used as a base for working visits to London.

For all his many qualities, David was a deeply self-effacing person who avoided pretension, disliked the limelight and saw things for what they were. He died on 19 March leaving his wife Maureen, two children, Tristan and Penny, and three grandchildren, Benedict, Josephine and Carenza. He will be remembered with a smile and great affection.

Dr Bernard Attard

Director of Education (History)

School of History, Politics and International Relations University of Leicester

November 2020 Issue of IJMH

The November 2020 issue of IJMH has been published and is available at this link.

The issue includes:

Editorial, David J. Starkey, Martin Wilcox
Maritime cultural encounters and consumerism of turtles and manatees: An environmental history of the Caribbean, Lynn B. Harris
Georgian Liverpool’s northern whaling trade reconsidered: Ranking, significance and geography, Simon Hill
The pirates of the Defensor de Pedro (1828–30) and the sanitisation of a pirate legend, Sarah Craze, Richard Pennell
Natural, artificial or imported? Ice supplies for the German distant-water fisheries as an example of renewable vs. fossil-fuel based supplies, Ingo Heidbrink
The curious case of the ‘Steam Yacht’ Caroline: An incident from the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, Roger Dence
Allied blockade in the Mid-East Atlantic during the First World War: cruisers against commerce-raiders, Javier Ponce
Oil transportation: Eni’s fleet, Italian ports and pipelines, 1950-1980, Ilaria Suffia, Andrea Maria Locatelli, Maurizio Romano
Playing maritime capital: The Baltic Sea in the touristic representations of St. Petersburg, Alexei Kraikovski, Nikita Bogachev, Ivanna Lomakina
British Commission for Maritime History: MA Prize
‘Beyond the limit of human endurance’: The stolen Manx history of Dunkirk, David Kneale
Research Notes
The development of maritime radar. Part 1: Before the Second World War, Dimov Stojce Ilcev
The development of maritime radar. Part 2: Since 1939, Dimov Stojce Ilcev

World’s largest historic and traditional fleet threatened?

“As bankruptcy looms for many skippers, an ‘irreplaceable’ part of the Netherlands’ maritime heritage is at risk”.

Alarming headlines in the national and international media, like this one in the Guardian of July 15, focus on the dramatic consequences of Covid-19 for Dutch maritime heritage. Over the past 50 years a fleet of a few thousand historic vessels has been preserved by private owners. About ten percent has been converted into charter vessels, sailing with groups in inland and coastal waters. About one third of this group is certified to sail the high seas. Roughly two dozen is working truly globally, from the NW passage to Antarctic waters.

Most of the historic ships are used as sailing houseboats, the smaller as yachts.

The direct threat of Covid-19 concerns the ten percent, the charter fleet. These vessels simply do not fit in to what has become as familiar as it is notorious in the past few months, the “one and a half metres society”. Until June vessels were not allowed to sail with passengers. The market collapsed. It is estimated that the fleet will miss 70 to 80 percent of its turnover in 2020. Nobody knows whether the specific sailing charter market will recover in 2021.

The short-term consequences for The short-term consequences for individual skipper-owners are dramatic. Already some of them are facing bankruptcy. But, in a wider perspective, the situation is even much more serious. With the establishment of the professional charter fleet in the past decades an associated infrastructure has been developed which is vital for the total heritage fleet. Now, not only the charter agencies or the specialised classification organizations are in crisis, but small scale businesses like shipyards, sailmakers, leeboard, mast and block makers are heavily dependent on the charter fleet. These professionally used ships are easily making ten to twenty times the number of sailing days the other historic vessels made.

The real problem is a matter of scale. If the number of professionally used sailing ships drops under a certain limit, the companies of the infrastructure will lose their economic base. That will not only affect the charter vessels, but the total Dutch heritage fleet.

Nobody knows yet what that limit is. Let us hope we never find out.

Frits Loomeijer

The 2019 North Atlantic Fisheries History conference

Re-visiting Fisheries History – Re-visiting Iceland – The North Atlantic Fisheries History Association (NAFHA) has returned to Iceland

The 2019 North Atlantic Fisheries History conference organized by the North Atlantic Fisheries History Association (NAFHA) took place Oct 17,18, 2019 in Reykjavik, Iceland. Co-organized by Guðmundur Jonsson, University of Iceland, and Ingo Heidbrink, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, it was a successful return to the country where the work of the North Atlantic Fisheries History Association (NAFHA) has begun. The topic of the conference‚ ‘Re-Visiting Fisheries History – Re-visiting Iceland’ was mainly chosen to stimulate discussion about recent historiography and more importantly contemporary fisheries history – or in other words, what has happened after the Cod-Wars.

The 15 papers presented by colleagues from seven nations around the North Atlantic clearly demonstrated that there is fisheries history beyond the Cod Wars and that the dramatic effects of the changes within the international distant water fisheries on the fisheries, technology, port cities, nation states, economies, societies, identities, etc. provide rich and plentiful topics for historical research of major societal relevance. One of those fisheries historians and a participant of a number of previous NAFHA conferences, who is well recognized for his research contributions in this field, opened the conference with his keynote paper, ‘The Cod Wars are not over. The use and abuse of the past in present debates’. Unfortunately, shortly after being promoted to Professor at the University of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson got elected President of Iceland and consequently ‘needed to take a sabbatical from academia’. But fortunately it seems that this sabbatical still provides some room for fisheries history which became obvious during the reception at Bessastaðir, the official residence of the Icelandic President (or the Icelandic White House).

Ingo Heidbrink

1852 Baltic Hull Shipwreck Identified

A well preserved ship wreck discovered by Finnish diver Jerry Wilhelmsson four years ago in shallow water off the Aland Islands has been identified as ‘The Regard’, a ship from Hull, which disappeared 168 years ago en route for St Petersburg.

Dr Robb Robinson, from the Blaydes Maritime Centre, The University of Hull, played a key role in the identification of the vessel.